On Monday, Milan and Napoli played to a 1-1 stalemate in front of nearly 60,000 fans at the packed Stadio San Paolo.
In the 39′, the partenopei’s sparkplug- Lorenzo Insigne – opened the scoring with a curled shot that took a wild deflection before beating keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to the back post. Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli controlled virtually the entire first half, applying constant pressure onto the rossoneri, and heavily dictating play from the midfield. Even though Napoli held the upper hand through most of the first half, that did not stop Keisuke Honda and Giacomo Bonaventura from linking up in the 44′.
The Japanese playmaker swung in a left-footed cross into the box, which was briefly touched by Napoli centre-half Kalidou Koulibaly before falling to the feet of an unmarked Bonaventura at the back post who side-footed a volley past Jose Reina. Milan cancelled out the Insigne goal just a few minutes later and the club’s approached the tunnel level at one goal a piece.
Despite playing to scoreless second half, both clubs had at it until the very end. Napoli’s midfielders did all they could to supply Serie A’s leading bomber Gonzalo Higuain with the chances to add to his 24 goals total, but the stout defensive line of Ignazio Abate, Alex, Cristian Zapata and Luca Antonelli ensured the Argentine wasn’t to play a role in deciding the outcome. Siniša Mihajlović and his Milan side did all they could to try and break down Sarri’s second place Napoli, but in the end, the match ended with one point going to each side.
As you know, Alessio Romagnoli did not feature in the back for Milan in this one as he battled the flu the entire week. Mihajlović replaced him with Zapata who turned in a stellar performance when few expected him to do so leading up to the opening whistle. As a defense, the four-man line stayed organized and tightly compact. They showed from the first minute that they were committed to absorbing pressure, and they did it near-flawlessly when you consider the firepower of the opposition. However, out of the four defenders in the back, it was the 90 minute performance of Ignazio Abate that stood out most in this one.
We know Napoli’s attacking trio likes to get out on the break and run, and how could they not with a trident of Insigne-Higuain-Callejon. While Higuain’s received most of the glory for his impressive goal tally this season, the 5’4″dynamo Lorenzo Insigne has been equally as influential to the successes of the Neapolitans due to the fact the former Real Madrid striker loves to play off the young man from Italy. Coming into this match, Abate was given the task of containing the 24-year old Italian for a full ninety minutes of intense football. The former Pescara standout had already been enjoying his best season yet as a professional footballer with 10 goals and ten assists, but was determined to add to those totals in some way, shape or form.
On Monday, Abate was constantly tested by Insigne, but was up for the challenge. The Napoli winger continuously tried the 29-year old azzurri defender down the left flank with great pace and technical ability, but Abate ensured he didn’t run rampant and dictate play for the entire match.
Even though Insigne did manage to escape the tight defense of Abate on the goal by cutting in, the Milan right-back made it frustrating overall for the star attacker. He closed down on the counter, pressed Insigne, gave him little room to work with and cut down on several attacking chances with a few vital tackles. While Abate still leaves much to be desired in the crossing department, he makes up for it with exceptional pace resembling that of an olympic sprinter.
When you combine the speed, work rate and stamina, Abate can play an effective 90 minutes, even if he is suspect on the attacking end, which is exactly what he did against Napoli. Typically, you can find Abate bombing down the right-flank and making overlapping runs, but it seems like Mihajlović elected to keep him back on defense to ensure Insigne was contained. Sure enough, his tactics worked to perfection.
With a match rating of 7.85, six interceptions, 5 tackles, five clearances and 1 dribble, Who Scored awarded Abate with Man of the Match honors for his overall efforts at the San Paolo. On Monday, Abate was handed the test of locking down one of Europe’s most dangerous players in Lorenzo Insigne, and unlike many other fullbacks before him, the 29-year old passed the test with flying colors.
For more performance evaluations like this one, be sure to follow us on Twitter, or like our page on Facebook. This post is our second this round in collaboration with Serie A Scouted. (serieascouted.wordpress.com). Be sure to read their post-match tactical analysis on Napoli-Milan.